Wisconsinites raised champagne glasses, held back tears at work and grilled celebratory tuna melt sandwiches Wednesday to mark the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as the 46th president and 49th vice president of the United States.
In a state sharply divided along party lines that Biden won by about 21,000 votes, many residents looked toward a less politically divisive and turbulent future.
Standing outside the student center at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Alexia Dellman, a senior who is studying social work, said she hoped the new administration would lower the temperature of political debates, though she knows that won’t happen “with the snap of a finger.”
“But I’m hoping over time it’ll connect us a little more,” she said.
Randy Felch, who was walking on State Street near UW-Madison on Wednesday afternoon, said he wants to see more civility in politics.
“I hope Biden can pull us together closer,” Felch said. “I wish people would agree to disagree in a civilized manner. I think that’s what makes this country great is when you get differing opinions and you end up on the right path through that process.”
Andrea Ziegler, of Sparta, said she and her husband fell out with some family members over politics during the Trump presidency. She said she is sad, reflecting on those divisions and others seen in her community, but is hopeful for the future.
“For a while, I was not sure this day would ever come,” Ziegler said. “I feel hope again.”
She said she spent the morning “trying so hard not to cry.”
Mel Ripp, of Madison, said she did cry. As tears flowed, she cuddled her cat and thought about pouring a morning glass of champagne.
“We have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do, but I feel so hopeful today,” Ripp said.
In Wauwatosa, Michael Hayden planned a family dinner of tuna melts and chocolate chip ice cream. Harris made headlines this spring for offering a fellow senator tuna melt cooking tips. Biden, a self-proclaimed ice cream fan, has said his favorite flavor is chocolate chip.
Wisconsinites Celebrate Harris’s Historic Vice Presidency
After her swearing-in, Harris became the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent to serve as vice president.
In Milwaukee, women of color were celebrating someone like them finally having a place in the White House.
Kera Jones said having a female vice president could make the world better.
“I think 100 percent that it’s perfect,” Jones said. “I think it will open a lot of things up and get much more going. And I do believe it could change things for the better (for people of color.)”
Tiffany, who didn’t want to give her last name, is a student at UW-Milwaukee, said it has taken too long to get a woman in this position.
“I’ve never seen this growing up, so it’s really nice to see some changes,” said Tiffany, who is Hispanic.
Karen Dabney, who was walking her dog in downtown La Crosse on Wednesday morning, said she started to tear up when Harris was sworn in.
“I think that was the first sense of relief that I’ve had in a long time,” she said. “Representation is important … when people see others that look like them having the nation’s support, I think (it) helps a lot. Children and people who aren’t children anymore feel like they have more opportunities.”
In Sun Prairie, Mike Mathison said his two daughters, who are 2 and 5 years old, are “so excited to see a female vice president today.”
Tyler Halverson, of Bloomer, said he’s celebrating that his 10-month-old daughter “will only know a world where women can hold high constitutional office.”
“This is a great day,” Halverson said.
Calls For Action On COVID-19, Progressive Causes, Accountability For Capitol Insurrection
Josiah Wampfler, of Madison, called on Biden and Harris to support progressive causes like canceling student debt, implementing a $15 minimum wage and reforming immigration with a pathway to citizenship.
“We don’t just want words and platitudes,” Wampfler said. “People want real and serious change. We want tangible results.”
Mike McNally from Menasha said accountability for the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month should be the first priority of the new administration. He said lawmakers who supported the rejection of election results should be held accountable.
“There cannot be unity with traitors and we cannot move forward without holding them responsible,” he said.
Kathryn Rinderle, who was waiting at a bus stop on State Street in Madison on Wednesday afternoon, said she is comforted by Biden and Harris’s message of healing and hopes their administration can move the country forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a time to heal,” Rinderle said. “It’s a time for us to grieve over the loss of 400,000 citizens. And it’s a time for us to overcome COVID(-19) and get healthy.”
Editor’s note: This story will be updated. Corrinne Hess, Hope Kirwan, Rich Kremer, Rachael Vasquez and Laurel White contributed reporting to this story.